I woke with a back as stiff as a board – a stiff board. Sleeping out of doors has never been good for me and this was even worse than usual. Erza came up on me as I was trying to stretch and said a few magic words before touching me on the shoulder – instantly I felt better. As usual I was surprised by magic actually being useful.
“Thank you. Also, don’t touch me again without asking.”
He looked at me very gravely “Absolutely.”
It didn’t take us long to reach the logging camp. Where an angry looking logger ran up to us brandishing an ax. His arms looked to be as big as the trees he cuts down. He wasn’t exactly foaming at the mouth, but he was spitting so much as he shouted that his unkempt red beard had little flecks of white in it.
“You’re one of them ain’t you?! Either that or damn city-rats!”
I was tempted to take a step back, mostly to avoid the barrage of spittle – but that’s not a good idea. Instead a leaned forward slightly, not exactly eye to eye with the lunatic but close enough.
“Is that any way to speak to Lady Juost’s cousin? Or a woman with a pack of wolves?” At this point I realized there were no wolves about and I turned to Erza. “Where are the wolves?”
“I sent them away, I didn’t want them to scare the loggers.”
“Your little monster said everyone was dead!”
“Jinx isn’t always reliable.”
I was about to say something else but was interrupted by tree-arms shouting right in my face. This was clearly a fellow used to getting his way through sheer bluster. I can’t blame him, I suppose you have to use the tools that the Gods have given you.
“First of all if you spit on me one more time I’m going to stab you in the dick. Second of all what are you yelling at me for?”
A couple of the other loggers came and halfway pulled, halfway coaxed big red away and another man came forward to speak – a bone-weary looking older fellow (for a logger) who was wearing a fur kilt of all things. He explained that “the lads” were on edge because the fey folk had attacked them. I snorted.
“Oh yeah, what did they do? Tie your bootlaces together? Put holes in your waterskins? Hit you with a mudball when you’re trying to piss? Make your pants fall down? What can a pixie or a nixie or a trixie or whatever do to hurt grown ass men? Did they hurt your feelings? Did they call you names?”
I’ve very rarely have cause to regret insulting anyone but this was one of those times. The logging-master, Domico, lead us to a grove a few hundred yards away. Honest to Gods my first thought was that it looked like a butcher shop set up in the forest. Some number of men, it was impossible to tell how many, were nailed to the trees and had their entrails ripped out, strung up, and all tangled together in a revolting mess. I can’t imagine ever forgetting that sight, but even if I do the stench will remain with me forever. I’m not ashamed to say that I ran from the spectacle. Ezra appeared completely nonplussed – that more than anything made me realize how insane he really is. After a few moments Domico walked over to me.
“What did this?”
“The fey aren’t all little people with dragonfly wings and long noses m’lady, there’s dark ones too – they don’t have no souls you know, the Gods never gave ‘em any – so nothing they do matters. Some play pranks. Others do this. We woke up one morn and they were gone – they had been entranced or enspelled or something. Walked into this grove all on their own. We didn’t hear a scream or nothing- just found this. Seems like they been up here for days, if not weeks – but they was there with us in the camp the night before. But they say the fey folk don’t know about time neither so it don’t effect ‘em the same as it does us.”
Erza came to join us “Well thank you for this delightful side trek! Let’s get the Hells out of here!”
“We should go talk to the Tree.”
“Oh yes, by all means let’s talk to a tree!”
“I didn’t mean . . . I was trying to . . . oh Hells, let’s go.
Tree-trunk arms insisted on coming with us, he said his name was Melf or Skelf or something like that. He wouldn’t shut up the entire journey and what’s worse is all he talked about was logging. Did you know that an Ulpine water wheel has two speeds? Because I do now thanks to this braying jackass. Of course it started raining as well. Those were some of the most miserable hours of my life. I’m no forester but even taking logging into account the health of this woodland seems quite poor. Autumn is a few months off but all the leaves seem to be on the ground, which was also littered with dead limbs. It’s like the ground has been poisoned. The loudmouth was rattling on about something when suddenly he jerked to a stop grabbing at his face.
Looking closely there did seem to be a toothpick sized arrow coming out of his cheek. Maybe twenty yards away a tiny elfin figure with butterfly wings appeared with miniature bow at the ready. For a being maybe thirteen inches high her voice carried quite impressively.
“Surrender or be destroyed.”
“We surrender. Now what?”
“I’m not sure, I was expecting that I would have to destroy you.”
Belf or whatever his name was howled like a wounded bear when he plucked the tiny arrow from his cheekbone.
“Shut up you!” Before I could say anything else the insignificant archer flitted up near me and looked me over closely.
“Where did you get that dress?”
“I won it in a truth telling contest two forests over.”
“A likely story. What are you doing?”
I glanced at Erza “We’re going to talk to a tree.”
I couldn’t quite tell but I think one of her dust-mote sized eyebrows went up “Larnaca? Or one of the Eight Sisters?”
“Uh, the first one.”
“I better show you the way, you’ll just get lost otherwise!”
“Yes, you should.”
As we traveled we came across a putrid morass of mud. Snelf loudly bragged about how a river used to run through here but he and his boys had diverted it so they could run their logs down the channel they had created to the Sandy Creek and down to the town of Preen. Erza chimed in that it smelled so bad because of all the dead rotting fish trapped in the mud. The pixie looked like she was about to shoot both of them, but it probably wouldn’t have amounted to much. I was about to smooth things over, or at least disavow any involvement on my part, but at that moment there was a bubbling and a squerching sound as if a geyser was about to erupt. But what came out of the mud was the saddest and most ill-favored looking river troll that I have ever seen. Not that I’ve seen many, but it looked eight-nine parts dead out of ninety.
Relf screamed and charged at it with his wood-ax and promptly got stuck in the mud. Erza blasted it with a stream of magic acid and killed it more or less instantly. That didn’t stop Pelf from chopping the dead body a few times for good measure once he finally pulled himself out of the muck.
“I thought trolls were supposed to be hard to kill.”
“This one was sick.”
“You don’t say.”
Continuing on we came to a steeply rising hillside covered in loose rock and thick undergrowth with an immediate drop off to the north – making it something of rocky peninsula jutting out into a sea of air. Eight tall perfect trees were arranged in a circle around another that had to be fifty feet tall at least. It seemed especially wide and lush which almost made it look less beautiful than the others – like it was unnatural somehow. Our pixie escort flew up in the boughs of the tree and settled lightly to glare down at us. I was about to ask, stupidly perhaps, if this was the tree when there came a whisper on the wind. And I’m not being poetic, I mean an actual whisper carried by a soft breeze.
“As always with your kind, you care not where you tread, you care not what you kill. You disturb the slumber of ancients who dwelt here ages before your ancestors were born. Your kind has been warned to leave this forest. Go back and tell the rest of your kind they are not welcome here. If they do not they will surely die.”
“Will do, I’m actually not that concerned with logging myself, I’ll get those guys out of here.” Yelf started sputtering but I silenced him with a glance “Quiet down trollslayer. I’m looking for a fellow in black that seems to like trapping people in mirrors. You know anything about that?”
“Redgar is the servant of Ramoisin, her mind has turned to rot and decay because of her ambition.”
I turned to Erza “I suppose that’s your mom huh? Mind rot must be inherited eh?” This time he didn’t even shrug, just stood there. “So . . . tree, I’d like to find this Redgar character. He, or it or whatever, has a friend of mind in that mirror and I’d like to get her back.”
“Banish the destroyers from this land and I will show you Redgar.”
I turned to Felf “You hear that buddy, you and your pals are banished. Now scram!”
“You just sold us out! I thought you came here to help us!”
“Why? Look man, either get out of here or whatever butchered your friends is going to come back for you. That seems like a pretty simple deal. Do you love hacking down trees so much that you’d rather die than not do it? Cut down trees somewhere else. Or do something else altogether. Go back to your camp and tell all your friends that you’re leaving and never coming back okay?”
“You’ll pay for this!”
“Why me? I didn’t do anything.” I turned to Erza “Why does everyone always blame me?”
Inventory: Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Rope of Entanglement, Enchanted Feycloth Dress (Green), Light Crossbow
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince
Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle
the butler , Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire
Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror,
Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe,
Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family,
Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale
Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna
Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer,
Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin